SS-GB: I Must Read the Book

I was looking forward to the television dramatisation of Len Deighton’s SS-GB. I have intended to read the novel for ages, but never got round to it. That was foolish of me, especially as I have read C.J. Sansom’s Dominion, a rather poor attempt at an alternate history based on Germany winning the war. That book could have been good, as most of Sansom’s books are, but he decided to ruin it by portraying various real politicians of the time as Nazis when they clearly were not and would never have collaborated with Germany.

Beaverbrook is made Nazi Prime Minister (Sansom doesn’t like newspaper proprietors). Enoch Powell, the Tory who voted Labour in the 1945 election because he couldn’t forgive the Conservatives for Munich and who famously declared that he wished he had died for his country in the war, is also depicted as a Nazi (Sansom assumes that anyone on the right in British politics must really be a Nazi). All members of the SNP are said to be Nazis (Sansom, like me, opposes Scottish independence but, unlike me, jumps to the conclusion that anyone who disagrees with him must be a supporter of Hitler). Dominion was disappointing. But SS-GB is universally acclaimed as a triumph. Maybe, I thought, watching it on the box would be fun.

The first episode was on tonight. I watched it (I don’t think I have watched anything other than the news and election programmes for years). I could tell it was good. It looked authentic. But the trouble was that I could only make out about a quarter of the dialogue. This, I am told, is a frequent problem with modern BBC drama. I suppose the directors think they are being realistic. In the real world lots of people mumble incoherently, so that is what the actors should do in television drama. The problem, though, is that that makes it a little difficult to follow the plot.

I shan’t give up. Apparently there is a button one can press to get subtitles. I will use that for the next episodes. But I think I will also do what I should have done ages ago: I will read the book.



6 thoughts on “SS-GB: I Must Read the Book

  1. Unlike many, apparently, I have yet to encounter a television drama where I cannot hear the dialogue. Whether that is because I have unusually acute hearing (doubtful) or because I give the television my undivided attention when watching I cannot tell.


    • It does seem to be a common complaint.

      Like you, I rarely watch drama but have been following the rather interesting ‘Taboo’ on BBC 1 and certainly that has dialogue where I cannot always hear what is being said. That would appear to contradict my previous comment so allow me to explain. Rather than be irritated by not following the dialogue I assume that I am not supposed to hear it. It’s there to create an atmosphere or to show character, and anyway one can usually infer the nature of what was said even if one doesn’t have the exact words. It’s as though one is eavesdropping on the conversation and some things escape your hearing. In turn, that leads to a degree of uncertainty because one does not have all the facts.

      Your comment on ‘following the plot’ is interesting because I actually prefer to be left figuring out what the plot is.Perhaps it comes from being a writer but if the plot is too obvious I start to join up too many of the dots and that spoils the fun. The less that’s immediately obvious the more intrigued I am.


  2. I read the book when it was first published, Charles, but felt no great urge to watch the television dramatisation. Shame about the mumbling but it’s not an unusual complaint regarding BBC drama.

    I must admit I rarely watch television these days, I much prefer to read a book or listen to the radio.


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